Let’s sit side-by-side in the pew and observe a pastor for a few minutes. Listen not only to his words but eyeball him. See how he communicates non-verbally, by his actions. He’s standing in the pulpit. He’s folding his hands in prayer. Notice his face, too. He’s smiling as he greets us. He’s earnest as he proclaims the Scriptures. His face compliments his words.
And, with that in mind, at a certain point in the service, I think it’d be best if he yawned.
I don’t mean during the singing of long hymns, or the offering, or the prayers. But, at least on occasion, let him give us one of those wide-mouthed, full-faced, loud yawns as we stand before him to confess how sinful we are.
It’s the tradition in my church, every Sunday morning, for us to confess that “we are by nature sinful and unclean.” We admit that we have “sinned in thought, word, and deed.” We acknowledge that we deserve punishment now and forever. We don’t go into specifics, but we certainly say enough to affirm that we’ve messed up big time. We stand before the Almighty and say, “I’ve failed miserably at keeping your law. I’ve done things I shouldn’t have. I’ve left good things undone. I’ve shattered not one, not two, but all ten of your commandments. And I deserve hell because of it.”
What if, while we were admitting all these serious infractions of the divine law, our pastor simply yawned?
Let him yawn not because confession isn’t important; it’s an indispensable part of the Christian life. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” John says. “Confess your sins to one another,” James urges. By giving voice to our failures, we acknowledge that God is right. We are sinners who have actively engaged in evil and avoided good. This is a damning, inescapable truth.
But it’s a truth that we are prone to manipulate into a lie.
Here’s what I mean. When we’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it, our default mentality is to assume that we must make it right. Say I “borrow” a tool from work to use over the weekend and end up breaking it. On Monday morning, if I tell my boss how sorry I am and promise to replace the broken tool with money from my own wallet, then perhaps all will be forgiven. But I must assume ownership of the wrong, demonstrate sincere remorse, and make amends. My boss isn’t simply going to say, “Don’t worry about it. I knew you took it. And I’ve already replaced the tool with my own money. And, by the way, I’m giving you a $5 an hour raise this week.”
We approach God with the same mentality; we treat him like our Boss. It is imperative, we think, to make sure the Lord is aware of how awful we feel about the wrong we’ve done, especially if we’ve committed “mega-sins.” So we make much of our confession. Throw in all sort of heavy adverbs to show how sincerely, deeply, gravely, horribly, terribly, godawfully sorry we are. We beat ourselves up because if our souls are black and blue then God will know we’re not just play-acting. And we’ll confess and re-confess because each time we do so, we get a little closer to making amends with heaven. @@In short, we manipulate the truth of confession into a forgiveness-earning lie.@@
So let our pastor yawn as we confess. Let him upset our tendency to make confession into a good work by being completely unimpressed with our admission to wrongdoing. There is nothing more boring and predictable than sin. We’re fools to think otherwise. So, yes, confess your sins, but don’t expect the Lord to be so moved by your tearful display of heartfelt repentance that he decides you’ve earned the absolution. All you’ve earned is a place in the long line of screw-ups we call humanity. Welcome to the club.
What follows our confession is what matters: in the stead and by the command of Christ, our pastor says, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
When these words are spoken, let the yawning cease and the laughter begin. God is doing what our boss would never do. He’s saying, “Don’t worry about it. I knew you did it. And I’ve already taken care of it with my own blood. And, by the way, I’m giving you even more grace this week.”
Here is cause for a party! Let some staunch, German folks shout Hallelujahs when the absolution is pronounced. And let Grandma Schmidt dance between the pews. This is what it’s all about: free grace given to guilty sinners because of Christ Jesus. We are off the hook. Christ has paid the bill. He has made amends for us to the Father. All is well between us and heaven because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. @@We’re forgiven not because we confess our sins but because Christ was crucified for them.@@ He confessed our iniquities to be his own. Now he confesses us to be his own.
And that is never cause for yawning.